Imagine being eight years old and setting out to work the beautiful yet uncertain waters of the Chesapeake Bay for the first time. For seasoned watermen like Captain Danny Crabbe, this experience was a reality. His first boat was a 16-foot wooden skiff made from the old pews of his church just down the road. It was in this boat that Danny crabbed to make the money that would buy his school supplies growing up. His great-grandfather was a waterman, both of his grandfathers were watermen, and his father was a waterman. "I was born for the water", he says. A native of Virginia's Northern Neck, Captain Danny Crabbe has spent a lifetime working the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
He now lives just miles away from the historic menhaden fishing town of Reedville, VA. His property and boats are located on the shores of Spencer's Creek, a branch that flows into the Little Wicomico River and on into the Chesapeake Bay. He currently runs Crabbe's Charter Fishing on his boat Kit II, a 43-foot deadrise made of fiberglass and a sister boat to two Chesapeake Bay Foundation boats. Captain Danny is licensed to carry 28 people, and he has been charter fishing for 40 years. Running annually from April 16 to December 31, folks come from all over the state to try and reel in a big one. "I've met a lot of nice people in my life from charter fishing", says Captain Danny. Not only does he enjoy running this business and meeting new people, but he is also connecting people to the Bay. When a group of clients spend a few hours out on the water, making fond memories and catching a few fish, they invariably feel a sense of appreciation and fondness toward the Chesapeake.
Captain Danny Crabbe has done much more than bringing fishermen to the Bay each year. He has also served as a Captain for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for about 12 years. Leaving from Smith Point Marina, he transports students out to one of CBF's Island Education centers. These outdoor education programs that connect hundreds of students to the Chesapeake Bay value the dedication and support of boat captains like Danny Crabbe.
Captain Danny continues to work the water in other ways. He currently runs his Oyster Aquaculture business, Fat n' Happy Oyster Company. "I have hundreds of thousands of oysters down the river right now", said Danny as he pointed out towards the Little Wicomico. He uses cages attached to lines that he sets on leased plots of water. Sometimes one line will have up to 70 cages. Captain Danny continued, "There's something about starting your oysters off as babies [spat], and then harvesting them one day and delivering them locally the next". A single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. Oyster aquaculture has allowed hundreds of millions of oysters to help clean Bay waters as well as support many Chesapeake watermen. "I am for cleaning up this water", says Danny Crabbe.
Spending so many years working the water, Captain Danny Crabbe has gained a wealth of knowledge and experience. He has observed many changes in his lifetime as a waterman. One change in particular is, "There are less and less watermen. But, watermen still love to be watermen. As life goes on, things change and places change, but the one thing you have to keep in mind is change itself. You have to keep an open mind and a positive attitude". Captain Danny's passion for his work and his resilience earn him the utmost respect.
"When my generation is gone, people aren't gonna know how it used to be."
Being a waterman is so much more than just a full time job. It involves hard work and long hours in fairly uncomfortable situations. From blazing heat to pouring rain, stormy waters to jellyfish stings, being a waterman is not for the faint of heart. Many watermen, however, take immense pride in the work they do. "You take pride in your boat, you take pride in your rig, and you take pride in your work", says Capt. Danny. As a waterman, "sometimes you think you're gonna get rich and you don't, and sometimes you think you're gonna starve and you don't". After spending a lifetime on the water, Captain Danny Crabbe has seen many difficulties, yet he still works almost every day. Now, at 72 years of age, he says, "most of us watermen don't retire, we just fade away".